Purchasing behavior of seafood consumers is changing, but will it stick?
By Arsenia KingFeatures
The Virginia Seafood Agricultural Research and Extension Center has conducted a consumer survey that looks at how consumer trends in seafood purchase changed during the pandemic.
Jonathan van Senten, assistant professor at Virginia Tech and lead for the USDA-funded research, said the survey is critical because its findings, though focused on consumers, will impact seafood producers as well.
The survey involves 2,000 respondents from 20 areas in the United States that are important for aquaculture products. Launched in 2021, the survey was conducted on a quarterly basis last year and will be administered every six months through the end of 2022 in order to assess “what’s changing, whether it is continuing to change and whether these are permanent shifts.”
The consumer research spun out of the “Impacts of COVID-19 on US aquaculture, aquaponics, and allied businesses” study, which van Senten also led in 2020.
The preliminary results shared by van Senten at the Virginia Aquaculture Conference early this year focused on trout, but the survey also includes questions focused on oysters and catfish – species relevant to Virginia aquaculture.The survey collects information about how frequently people buy seafood, what species they buy, how much they spend, and whether they prepare seafood at home or purchase it at restaurants.
“For example, we found that during the pandemic, people ate more trout at lunch, and less trout at dinnertime, compared to their habits before the pandemic,” said van Senten.
Another trend they are seeing is price becoming a less important factor in purchasing decisions.
“Price has always been so important with seafood, but we’re starting to see more and more that price is not always ending up in the top three most important attributes,” he said.
He noted that while price remains in the top 5-10 factors people consider, other factors like convenience are becoming higher priorities for seafood consumers.
Interestingly, when the research asks people “why are you not buying trout”, 40 percent said they did not buy trout because it is hard to find, or it was not convenient for them to buy.
“This means that potentially there are more people who would buy this product if they can find it,” he said.
He clarified that the trends he identified so far are consistent across types of farmed seafood.
“Our research showed that people have adjusted to the pandemic,” adds van Senten.
The marketing channels that emerged or strengthened in response to the pandemic, such as curbside pick-up services, online sales, home delivery services, drop off/pick up locations, setting up kiosks and participating in farmers markets or food hubs “seems to be working,” he said.
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